Books: Surviving the California wildfires, George Saunders wins the Man Booker and more

Where do you find a posse of bestselling novelists in L.A.? At Jennifer Egan’s Thursday reading at ALOUD at the Central Library for her latest, “Manhattan Beach.” The audience included Jade Chang (“The Wangs vs. The World”), Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeny (“The Nest”) and Eden Lepucki (“California”) — all there to enjoy the conversation with Egan about her book. The discussion was moderated by Marisa Silver (yes, another bestselling author). What a literary force! I’m books editor Carolyn Kellogg; welcome to this week’s newsletter.



When novelist Stefan Kiesbye and his wife heard their dog banging on their bedroom door in the middle of the night, they thought it was because he’s a restless rescue. But Kiesbye, who teaches at Sonoma State, got up anyway to check on him. An hour later, the Kiesbyes were in the car, driving through the fire consuming their neighborhood in Santa Rosa. Here’s Stefan’s beautiful essay about the fires.

Stefan Kiesbye's home before the fire.
Stefan Kiesbye's home before the fire. (Stefan Kiesbye)


George Saunders won the Man Booker Prize on Tuesday for “Lincoln in the Bardo,” his novel of Abraham Lincoln mourning the death of his son, surrounded by ghosts. In our review, David L. Ulin called the book “remarkable …. a book of singular grace and beauty, an inquiry into all the most important things: life and death, family and loss and loving, duty and perseverance in the face of excruciating circumstance.” Here’s our story of his win. In his acceptance speech, Saunders said, in part, “We live in a strange time. The question at the heart of the matter is simple: Do we respond to fear with exclusion, and negative projection, and violence, or do we take that ancient, great leap of faith, and do our best to respond with love, and with faith in the idea that what seems Other is actually not Other at all, but just Us, on a different day.” (Here’s a video).

George Saunders
George Saunders (Chris Jackson / AFP/Getty Images)


Oriana Fallaci was a fearless journalist who got her start as a teenager in post-World War II Italy and soon was reporting around the world, including in Vietnam and Iran. Harpers magazine editor James Marcus, who translated Fallaci’s imperfect novel “Inshallah,” reviews the new biography “Oriana Fallaci: The Journalist, the Agitator, the Legend” and provides insight into what made the likes of Orson Welles praise her “sharp, Tuscan eye.”

Oriana Fallaci
Oriana Fallaci (AP Photo)


Entering our nonfiction bestseller list this week at No. 7 is “From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death” by Caitlin Doughty. The owner of an alternative funeral home, Undertaking L.A., Doughty is a leader of a movement to get Americans to think about death differently, and this book explores some of those alternatives. She’ll be talking to me about it — on one of the Days of the Dead — Nov. 1 at ALOUD at the Central Library.

An Aztec dancer at Dia De Los Muertos 2016 in Los Angeles.
An Aztec dancer at Dia De Los Muertos 2016 in Los Angeles. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)


“The Woman Who Smashed Codes” tells the story of Elizebeth Friedman, a World War II-era codebreaker whose contributions were almost lost to history. We talk to author Jason Fagone about his book.

In “199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die,” author Loren Rhoads chronicles the world’s most remarkable cemeteries. She came to Stories Books & Cafe this week, and Agatha French went to get the scoop on cemetery tourism.

Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” has been pulled from the school curriculum in Biloxi, Miss., because the book “makes people uncomfortable,” according to the school board.

To take the photographs for their new coffee table book “Wise Trees,” Diane Cook and Len Jenshel traveled the world for two years. Agatha French takes a look.

The ginkgo tree at Kishimojin Temple in Tokyo is called the child-giving tree.
The ginkgo tree at Kishimojin Temple in Tokyo is called the child-giving tree. (Diane Cook and Len Jenshel in "Wise Trees," Abrams)